Thriving Brains, Thriving Workplaces

To thrive, human brains require nourishment in many forms: hydration, nutrition, oxygen, rest, stimulation. Just as push-ups build arm muscles, “effortful learning” is exercise for the brain that stimulates growth and strength of synapses. These are the connections between brain cells that facilitate higher brain functions like thought, innovation, and creativity. Numerous and strong synaptic connections between various parts of the brain improve overall brain function and health. Effortful learning goes beyond simple task mastery; it requires rigor and focus that challenges the brain at a deeper level. Examples include learning a different language, how to play a musical instrument, or computer coding. Neuroscience research reveals human brains are capable of growth and health throughout life; people are never “too old” to learn, and effortful learning reduces cognitive decline, and even slows dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Akin to the human brain, an organization’s collective “grey matter” (employees and the synapse-like interactions between them) also requires nourishment and effortful learning to thrive. Without purposeful and strategic stimulation, organizations (like brain synapses) are likely to grow quiet and fail. Today’s rapid economy challenges all employers, and according to Deloitte research, “The single biggest driver of business impact is the strength of an organization’s learning culture.”

As with any strategy, leadership support is crucial to sustaining a learning organization. Leaders may model learning as a valuable activity by taking actions such as:

  • Reading and sharing their thoughts with employees to inspire them to learn;
  • Assigning someone to develop a strategy to establish and sustain a learning culture;
  • Holding managers accountable to providing learning opportunities;
  • Asking questions of employees at all levels, engaging in dialog and listening;
  • and allocating resources to learning initiatives and rewards for those who achieve goals.

With leadership support established, the current state of an organization’s culture must be considered. Learning organizations have “a culture that supports an open mindset, an independent quest for knowledge, and shared learning directed toward the mission and goals of the organization.” If culture falls short, individuals throughout the organization may be engaged in effortful learning to strengthen the “synapses” (communications, interactions, relationships, etc.) that bind them together. Employers Council members may access numerous resources to provide opportunities for effortful learning and nourishing a thriving workplace, including:

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